The Pomodoro Technique: A Fantastic Productivity Hack

by | Jan 2, 2019


It’s a new year! Time to be more productive! Today’s IFOD is about a time management technique that is very effective in boosting productivity.

A prior IFOD discussed the benefits of oscillating throughout the day; trying to put your head down and work for hours at a time is not an efficient or effective work habit. Instead, working in shorter bursts with rest/distraction in between is optimal.

My Oscillating Story

As I’ve relayed previously, I made horrible grades my freshman year of college and ended up transferring for my sophomore year. My deal with my parents is that I had to make a 4.0 that fall in order to redeem myself. I had never really developed great study habits in high school and I needed to find techniques that worked. I ended up creating a study method that was effective (which included repetition and note cards) and a key aspect was a time management technique that used bursts of studying combined with rest. I would go to the library and set up near a clock with hands. I would start to work in a focused manner at the top of the hour for just 20 minutes and then take a 10 minute break (walk around, read, do some squats), then focus for 20 minutes, 10 minute break, focus, break, focus, break, etc. I would do that for a few hours and then go back to my dorm. It was very effective. That time management and other study habits turned my college career around.

Practicing law and working at a large accounting firm (both of which required tracking of time) were not conducive to this technique. At those jobs, at the end of the day I would be mentally shot from trying to work in long stretches. It was only years later at my current firm (with its amazing culture) that I have re-adopted this technique (not as formally) and my efficiency and productivity are much higher than slogging thru hours of work at the law firm. (Related point: How I Write a Daily Blog, Read 76 Books in a Year, and Still Find Time to Work and Exercise.)

Pomodoro Technique

It turns out that this technique has a name: The Pomodoro Technique. It was named/popularized by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. Pomodoro means “tomato” in Italian and he named it after his tomato shaped kitchen timer he used. His technique, as described by the website Lifehacker is as follows:

  1. Choose a task to be accomplished.
  2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
  4. Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
  5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break (15-20 minutes)

I personally prefer a 20/10 split vs. the 25/5 split Mr. Cirillo recommends as I feel that 5 minutes is too short a break.

A key to this technique is that you limit distractions during your focused time period. Possible solutions:

  • Go to a place where you will not be interrupted (I like to use a coffee shop while wearing headphones).
  • Put a note on your office that you want to limit interruptions
  • Put your phone on “do not disturb” and turn off your email alerts on your computer
  • Use a noise machine or wear headphones to limit ambient noise distractions

Try this technique out. I think you’ll be shocked at how much more you get done in a day. A key is not to feel guilty about taking breaks!

Use of a timer on your smartphone is effective, but there are also some pretty interesting “pomodoro apps” out there. Here’s a list:


  1. I think the successful rhythm will vary from person to person. Yours sounds like a hummingbird rhythm to me, but sounds quite suitable for you!

    During my study days at school I did something similar (although with longer intervals), studying at 2 or sometimes three places in a day, using the transit time as exercise/ re energising.

    However there were times in school and work where I would hit a zone and go for hours non stop because I got so immersed in a subject/project. These were always very productive periods as well, which is in direct conflict with this premise.

  2. Happy New Year, John and fellow IFODers!
    Great article, glad my focus time lasted long enough to read this art……
    ….. …… ….. hungry……tired…….happy…..

    What were we talking about again?

    Happy New Year!

  3. Happy New Year John! This was a great IFOD to start the year. Hoping Amazon sells a “real” Pomodoro timer.


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